12 sophisticated soft drinks to try this year
With fermenting set to be one of the key trends in both food and drink this year, it’s time to get acquainted with kombucha – a fizzy fermented tea that’s already proving popular with the cool kids in Scandinavia.
Thought to have originated in Northeastern China, the sour sparkling drink, which is said to aid digestion, has become a huge hit among abstemious millennials, many of whom are experimenting with their own home brews.
One of the brands to have emerged as a leader in the field is Real Kombucha, founded by entrepreneur David Begg. Moving from a nano brewery in Begg’s garage to a full-scale operation in the Chiltern Hills, in just over a year since it launched in 2017, Real Kombucha has won listings at over 40 Michelin-starred restaurants including Heston Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck and Simon Rogan’s L’Enclume.
Aiming to be a serious alternative to alcohol for those not drinking, the brand comes in three different styles: the “light and fruity” Dry Dragon, the “fresh and fragrant” Royal Flush, made with the queen of teas – Darjeeling, and Smoke House, which boasts notes of apple and caramel. Each bottle contains just 50 calories. RRP: £2.45 / 33cl at The Whisky Exchange.
Firefly Mr Lyan Superfly
When hipster soft drinks brand Firefly collaborates with one of the most exciting bartenders on the planet, you know you’re onto a good thing.
The mixologist in question is Dandelyan’s Ryan Chetiyawardana, aka Mr Lyan, and the fruit of the collaboration is Superfly – a special edition sparkler featuring everything from grapefruit and redcurrant to kola nut, coffee and cherry-tea flavoured cascara, with a little wormwood thrown in for added depth of flavour.
Boasting beautifully bright floral packaging, Superfly works well with plenty of ice and a sprig of mint as a complex long drink in its own right, but also makes a mean mixer for gin and Scotch.
Early to the sophisticated soft drinks party, Firefly was founded in 2003 by Harry Briggs and Marcus Waley-Cohen. Among the botanicals they work with in their fruit juices and tonics are green tea, dandelion, nettle and yerba maté. RRP: £1.75 / 33cl at Ocado.
No. 1 Rosemary Water
With health conscious millennials drinking far less than their predecessors, sophisticated soft sips are set to go mainstream this year, and one of the biggest trends looks to be flavoured water.
A huge success story in this sphere last year was No. I Rosemary Water, which stood out with its minimalist white and green packaging and stood up to the taste test, offering an elegant new take on sparkling water using a base ingredient that’s thought to help enhance memory and focus by improving the blood flow to the brain. A still version of the rosemary water is also available.
The brand was launched in 2017 by intrepid entrepreneur David Spencer-Percival, after he found out that a rosemary-rich diet was the secret to one in ten people in the southern Italian village of Acciaroli living to the ripe old age of 100.
Keen to bottle the idea, Spencer-Percival raised £2m in investment and ploughed £1m of his own money into the project, which was swiftly taken on by Harvey Nichols at the healthy price of £3.95 per 75cl bottle.
New for this year are nine additional flavours to the No. 1 range, including juniper, sage, lemon verbena, fennel, basil and thyme, all of which are said to boast different health boosting properties, from aiding digestion to strengthening the nervous system. RRP: £2.95 / 33cl at Harvey Nichols.
My Fruit Orchard English Apple Juice
In 2016, the Big Fruit Group – BFG – was founded, which specialises in hand-pressed apple and pear juice made in the pretty village of Great Missenden in Buckinghamshire’s Chiltern Hills.
Based at Atkins Farm, which has pressed fruit since the 18th century, the company sources fruit from different farms across the UK.
The BFG name tips its hat to the fact that Atkins farm backs onto the wood where children’s author Roald Dahl regularly walked in search of inspiration for his beloved books. A resident of Great Missenden for 36 years, Dahl lived in a 18th century farmhouse on the edge of the village.
Ensuring big fruit gets put to good use, the BFG works with wonky apples and pears that the supermarkets reject for not meeting their exacting standards, despite being equally tasty. The pomace left over from the production process doesn’t go to waste either, serving as a snack for the local woodland pigs.
The BFG makes a trio of juices under the My Fruit Orchard brand: a “pleasingly sharp and zingy” Cox and Bramley apple juice, a “bright and refreshing” Conference pear juice, and a pink tinted juice made from Discovery apples that boasts notes of nectarine and a hint of strawberry. All three have picked up Great Taste awards.
Working in small batches to ensure quality, in December BFG founder Clark Betz made Christian’s Batch dedicated to his older brother, who died from cancer last October. In honour of Christian, Clark gives 10% of his profits to the Oracle Cancer Trust. RRP: £2.29 / 33cl, £3.95 / 75cl from My Fruit Orchard.
Lo Bros Ginger and Turmeric Apple Cider Vinegar Tonic
With its vivid mustard hue, turmeric, the spice that gives curry its colour, is being hailed as a wonder ingredient due to its medicinal properties. The super spice is said to be both a powerful anti-inflammatory and a potent antioxidant. No wonder drinks makers are adding it to their non-alcoholic potions in their droves. This year you’ll see it pop up in everything from kombucha to sparkling mixers.
Keen to make the most of its health boosting properties is Lo Bros, an Australian drinks company that specialises in small batch kombuchas, tonics and organic sodas crammed with gut-loving ingredients. While we like the sound of their apple, passion fruit, and ginger and lemon kombuchas, it’s the ginger and turmeric apple cider vinegar tonic that has really caught our eye.
Boasting “millions” of live cultures per serve, the “dangerously tangy” drink is made from fermented apple cider vinegar and takes three weeks to brew. It couldn’t be more on trend, as apple cider vinegar has become hugely popular over the last few years with health fad fanatics due to its long list of benefits, including lowering cholesterol, improving heart health, and, allegedly, aiding weight loss. RRP: £2.25 / 33cl at Planet Organic.
Sandows Cold Brew Coffee Soda
Cold Brew coffee is having a bit of a moment. Its makers are keen to stress that it isn’t simply hot coffee that has been left to go cold. Rather, it’s fresh coffee that has been brewed slowly with filtered water without heat to extract minimal acidity, leading to a smoother brew without the bitterness associated with black coffee.
All good cold brews have to start with a brilliant base. Brand leader Sandows sources its coffee from Origin Coffee Roasters, paying at least 50% more than Fairtrade prices to ensure optimum quality. The achingly hip drink comes in cool rectangular glass bottles and adorable stubby cans, and can be enjoyed straight up, over ice and even with a dash of milk.
Sandows has also branched out into soda and sells a kooky pair in stubby cans: citrus cold brew soda and spice cold brew. The former offers a “zesty” mix of cold brew coffee blended with lemon, lime and grapefruit for a totally tropical taste, which we imagine is like Lilt with a caffeine kick.
Sandows’ spicy little number, which boasts a burnt orange label, is a “punchy” concoction that blends cold brew coffee with ginger, orange blossom and black space, and tastes like gingerbread. Both sodas are low in sugar and dairy free. RRP: £1.50 / 25cl at Sainsburys’.
Somersault Slow Brewed Organic Soda
Boasting striking geometric packaging, created by drinks design specialist Denomination, that gives hipster craft beer brands a run for its money, newcomer Somersault hails from Melbourne. The brand is so new it hasn’t hit UK shores yet, but will no doubt be snapped up soon.
Aiming to turn the adult soft drinks category on its head with a smart, sophisticating range, Somersault’s head brewer Neil slow brews the sodas over several days to naturally build up body and flavour, leading to drinks that are both complex and delicate.
The range is comprised of four flavours: Orange & Mandarin, Limeonade (see what they did there), Lemon Squash, and Cola with Pear & Lime. According to the Somersault team, all four are “organic, low in sugar and 100% natural”.
The brand has been launched through the on-trade in Oz, targeting trendy cafés and bars. We look forward to trying it when it lands in London.
Gingerella Ginger Ale
This softie made our line up partly because we adore its retro packaging, but mainly because it packs a serious flavour punch. The base ingredient is organically grown ginger nurtured by Fairtrade farmers in the Sri Lankan rainforest.
Clean and crisp, it has a fiery underbelly from the ginger, which is mixed with Sicilian lemons, Indian cane sugar, Fairtrade vanilla grown in the Sri Lankan rainforest, cassia and capsicum.
Ginger has long been lauded for its medicinal properties. The super root is renowned for easing and preventing motion sickness, and also helps boost circulation, fight colds and super charge the immune system.
In addition to its über cool packaging, this is a brand with a big heart. It sources its ginger from a trio of small growers dubbed ‘The Spice Girls’ – Tilak, Karuna and Thilanka, who are part of the Sri Lankan Rainforest Garden Growers Association, which brings local farmers together to help them get better prices for their produce.
The makers of Gingerella are also behind Karma Cola, made from kola nuts grown in the Gola Rainforest in Sierra Leone. Every bottle gives back to the Karma Cola Foundation, which in turn gives back to the West African farmers who help make it. RRP: £1.69 / 33cl at Waitrose.
The London Essence Rhubarb & Cardamom Soda
Another recent addition to the adult soft drinks sphere, The London Essence sells tonics and sodas in beautiful, Art Deco-inspired bottles.
Light and low calorie, the brand was founded in 2016 and takes inspiration from The London Essence Company, which thrived in the late 19th century, creating “exquisite essences for the capital’s perfume, confectionary and drinks industry”, so the story goes.
Fast forward to 2016, and The London Essence 2.0 was quick to win favour with some of London’s top mixologists, including The Savoy’s former head bartender Erik Lorincz, who loves their versatility in cocktails.
In addition to a plain soda water designed to be paired with whisky, the company makes a pair of flavoured sodas: a pale pink, subtly spicy Rhubarb & Cardamom expression made with distilled cardamom essence, and a refreshing, floral Grapefruit & Lemon Verbena soda, both of which can either be enjoyed on their own or with whisky and white wine respectively.
Fever-Tree Madagascan Cola
No soft drinks round up would be complete without at least one entry from Fever-Tree. A leader in the premium tonic sphere for some time, the brand has more recently branched out to offer sips that work as sophisticated soft drinks in their own right.
One of its newest additions is an elegant twist on classic colas made with Madagascan vanilla. Described as “delicately sweet with hints of citrus and exotic spices”, in addition to sweet Madagascan vanilla and earthy kola nuts, the cola features Mexican key limes, which add a citrus twist, and cassia from Indonesia, which brings warming spice notes to the mix.
While deliciously complex on its own, it also makes a fine partner for dark spirits like rum and Bourbon for those seeking something stronger. A low calorie version is available in Fever-Tree’s Refreshingly Light range, which boasts half the calories. RRP: 99p / 20cl at The Whisky Exchange.
Luscombe Wild Elderflower Bubbly
This is a sparkler with a serious history. Luscombe estate in Devon has farming roots stretching back to 1087, and even pops up in the Domesday Book. The commercial drinks side of the business wasn’t developed until 1975, though cider has been made at the estate since the 12th century, and workers were paid in part with cider until as recently as the ‘70s.
Luscombe launched its first soft drinks back in 1997, making it one of the first to champion sophisticated soft serves. Inspired by a stint in Sicily, on returning to England in the late ‘90s owner Gabriel David got to work making Sicilian lemonade free from concentrates and additives.
The estate’s soft drinks range has since grown to include an orangeade made from oranges grown in Etna’s volcanic soils; a ‘crush’ range of sparkling fruit juices in lip-smacking flavours like raspberry, lime, rhubarb, and cranberry; a delicate Damascene rose sparkler that marries Muscat grapes with Sicilian lemons; and a quintessentially English wild elderflower fizz made with elderflowers “picked in the June sunshine”.
The floral fizz is said to pair well with savoury snacks like smoked salmon canapés and mini quiches. RRP: £6 for four x 27cl at Abel & Cole.
Fentimans Sparkling Lime & Jasmine
And finally, while Fentimans is perhaps better known for its pretty pink rose lemonade, we’re rather partial to its lesser-known but equally elegant sparkling lime and jasmine number.
The lightly cloudy grown up softie is light and refreshing, and boasts a hint of bitterness “balanced by the botanical sweetness of hyssop, lime flower and juniper berries”, according to its makers, who create the drink’s unique aroma through a mix of botanical infusions, one of which includes white jasmine flowers. The sophisticated sip is best enjoyed in a tall glass over ice with a wedge of lime.
Founded by Thomas Fentiman, an iron puddler from Cleckheaton, in 1905, the company began by selling botanically brewed ginger beer housed in handmade stone jars, which were delivered door to door via horse-drawn cart. If you’re wondering who the handsome hound is on the label, it’s Fearless, Fentiman’s beloved dog, who won the obedience class at Crufts in both 1993 and 1934.
Hearteningly, Fentimans remains a family-owned company and is currently presided over by Thomas’ great grandson. The glass bottles he uses are modelled on the shape of the original stone jars his great grandfather used. RRP: £1.25 / 27.5cl at Ocado.